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Boomer’s Blueprint: Increasing CIO value

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CIOs and IT directors are being asked to do more with their IT resources and, at the same time, increase client value. It sounds simple but isn’t easy to accomplish, especially in a pandemic and with rapidly changing technology.

For over 20 years, I have focused on bridging the gap between firm leadership and IT professionals. Much of this effort has been focused on communications, relationships, building trust, and providing access to resources and peers. The pandemic has laid bare the reliance firms have on technology and the importance of integrating their technology roadmap with their vision and strategic plan.

We have continuously said, “IT should have a seat at the table,” but just as importantly, what can IT professionals do to increase their value as well as the firm’s ability to remain successful and future-
ready?

The following strategies have worked for leading firms as well as their best clients. This list is not an all-inclusive checklist, but rather a summary of important differentiators that have separated the most successful CIOs from many of their peers.

Without these strategies, the position of CIO can be very lonely and stressful. Of equal importance, we will also look at strategies the firm should implement to remain future-ready and ensure their CIO’s success.

CIO strategies

  • Talk business value, not technology, if you want to command respect and gain a seat at the table. Remember, the primary ways to add value are leadership that provides direction and relationships that offer confidence and creativity, promoting innovation. The ability to add value is paramount to sustainability and future success.
  • Align and build a strong relationship with the CEO or managing partner. You must understand and live the firm’s vision. Developing trust will reduce both the time and expense required to plan and execute priority projects. Additionally, remember that all roads lead through the CEO in learning what partners and staff want and need. It is advisable to work with partners, managers and staff one to one, but keep the CEO informed and in the loop.
  • Be strategic, not tactical with Band-Aid solutions that often fix yesterday’s problems while ignoring future requirements and wants. Be bold and skip over past issues to focus on today’s priorities. A technology committee led by the CIO and consisting of managers and staff members can guide strategy. It is best if the CEO participates at least annually in the technology strategic planning session where the firm develops its IT roadmap.
  • Ensure the partners understand how the IT vision integrates with and supports the firm’s vision. This is where one-on-one meetings allow you to gain input, build trust and strengthen relationships.
  • Know your audience. It is important to know the appropriate level of details when presenting to the CEO, partners, managers and staff. These one-on-one meetings can ensure buy-in before important discussions and decisions.
  • Create a consistent presentation process when presenting to the partners or the board. This will create consistency from meeting to meeting and is extremely valuable to those who are not regularly involved in technology other than as an end user. For example, a quarterly briefing that focuses on consistent metrics and project status updates is more impactful than a running list of what’s top of mind or getting the most attention at the time.
  • Don’t sugar-coat or minimize technical issues — especially risk management. Put the problems in context and always demonstrate strategic thinking. It is easy for those not involved to minimize risk and undervalue the ability to deal with complex IT issues such as integration, workflow, privacy and security.
  • Look for quick wins where there is something for everyone. Remote working has been one of those areas. Don’t be afraid to celebrate successes and own failures.

Everyone is talking about innovation, yet most firms are primarily focused on optimization. Innovation requires hindsight, insight and foresight.

Firm strategies

  • Ensure that IT is viewed and managed as a strategic asset, not as overhead. IT must be an equal partner with the business. Without this approach, it is almost impossible to find qualified IT leadership and sustain competitive systems.
  • Define the attributes you value in a CIO and then build a unique-ability team with those attributes. This goes well beyond technical competence. Some of the more critical characteristics are innovation, collaboration, project management and communications.
  • While IT success is a moving target, take the time to identify success as you see it today and continue to modify and update your targets annually. Little wins become big wins culturally.
  • Provide adequate resources (internal and external), including a reasonable budget. Moving more of your budget to innovation while keeping the lights on is a challenge for most firms, especially those that view technology as overhead.
  • Support innovation and change. The IT leader must have authority as well as responsibility. Metrics are valuable, but be careful not to be average, where the best of the worst meets the worst of the best. Participate in a peer group to increase access to resources and expertise.
  • Define your firm’s vision and culture. Include your CIO in this process.
  • Define your highest-priority projects and build an IT roadmap. Yes, this takes time and can be accelerated with an experienced outside facilitator.

Sustained success and being future-ready are a two-way street, where alignment can accelerate the processes and reduce costs. Over the years, I have learned that “who” is more important than “how.” A focus on “who” tends to create results, while focusing on “how” accents the problems.

In fact, one characteristic of the most successful CIOs is leadership and trust, followed by creativity and innovation. CIOs and IT professionals are even more important today than they were just a year ago.

These strategies will allow your firm to bridge the gap and position your firm with a strategic advantage.

Think — plan — grow!

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CIO Technology Gary Boomer
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